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Radio and the Telephone: CKUA moves to AGT

Premier William AberhartThe move of CKUA from the responsibility of the University of Alberta to the Alberta provincial government began in September 1944. By then, the station had solved the problem of broadcast interference from a growing number of new Edmonton stations by increasing its power from 500 to 1,000 watts in 1941. Station coverage extended from Peace River in the north to Vulcan in the south.

In 1937, CKUA had entered into a relationship with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) to carry programming not broadcast on its basic Edmonton station CJCA. This would impact heavily on CKUA's persona and by 1944, 43 per cent of its broadcast time was devoted to CBC programming.

As well, in 1944, the station had an arrangement with the American Army, then building the Alaska Pipeline, to provide a nightly newscast via a telephone line to CFWH Whitehorse. (CKUA's relationship with the CBC would end in 1950 when CFWH Whitehorse joined the CBC network.)

Despite the high proportion of programming, the CBC relationship was not particularly lucrative to CKUA, as CBC content was commercial free. CKUA's existence remained financially tenuous, with the station relying upon the provincial government and university for funding.

The sale of CKUA to the provincial government's minister of railways and telephones began in April 1944 when the university's board of governors moved to apply for a licence transfer in exchange for continuing the university's Monday to Friday broadcasts three hours daily, and maintaining its commercial-free status. The cost to the government would be $2 - a purchase evenly split between the station's transmitter equipment and the land on which the transmitter stood.

The sale and licence transfer would not be final until May 1, 1945 and at the end of July, CKUA's facilities were moved from the U of A campus across the Saskatchewan River to the Provincial Building. However, as late as 1959, any official declaration of the transfer of assets appears to be missing, according to Marylu Walters in her book, CKUA: Radio Worth Fighting For, published in 2002. Despite the apparent hand-over to the government, the university annually would renew the station's licence with the federal regulator for the next 25 years, invoicing the station for the fee. On its side, the provincial government periodically would apply for a commercial licence … and would be regularly turned down.

Alberta Government Telephones would own and operate CKUA until 1973, a period that would see the station increasing its wattage and reach throughout the province. But these improvements were largely the work of CKUA management and staff, not the provincial government. Indeed, Walters quotes editorialists and staff alike criticizing the government's "benign neglect" of the station.

"AGT really had no interest," says station manager Jack Hagerman of that period. "They would just as soon have been out from under it. They didn't really care, except that the general manager at AGT … in my years usually took some pride in the radio station. They looked at it as something they were doing for the community that reflected well upon them. So the end result was that they stayed out."

By 1974, the provincial government would leave the airwaves to a newly created organization - The Alberta Educational Communications Corporation, more popularly known as ACCESS. 


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